For the past six decades, Turkey and the United States have been strategic partners and NATO allies. Our two countries stood shoulder to shoulder against common challenges during the Cold War and in its aftermath.
Over the years, Turkey rushed to America’s help whenever necessary. Our military servicemen and servicewomen shed blood together in Korea. In 1962, the Kennedy administration was able to get the Soviets to remove missiles from Cuba by removing Jupiter missiles from Italy and Turkey. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, when Washington counted on its friends and allies to strike back against evil, we sent our troops to Afghanistan to help accomplish the NATO mission there.
Yet the United States has repeatedly and consistently failed to understand and respect the Turkish people’s concerns. And in recent years, our partnership has been tested by disagreements. Unfortunately, our efforts to reverse this dangerous trend proved futile. Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers that our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy.
On July 15, 2016, Turkey came under attack by members of a shadowy group led by Fethullah Gulen, who leads his organization, officially described by my government as Fethullah Terrorist Organization, from a compound in rural Pennsylvania. The Gulenists tried to stage a bloody coup against my government. On that night, millions of ordinary citizens rushed to the streets out of a sense of patriotism, similar to what the American people undoubtedly experienced after Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Two hundred and fifty one innocent people, including Erol Olcok, my longtime campaign manager and dear friend, and his son, Abdullah Tayyip Olcok, paid the ultimate price for our nation’s freedom. Had the death squad, which came after me and my family, been successful, I would have joined them.
The Turkish people expected the United States to unequivocally condemn the attack and express solidarity with Turkey’s elected leadership. It did not. The United States reaction was far from satisfactory. Instead of siding with Turkish democracy, United States officials cautiously called for “stability and peace and continuity within Turkey.” To make matters worse, there has been no progress regarding Turkey’s request for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen under a bilateral treaty.
Another source of frustration relates to the partnership between the United States and the PYD/YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK, an armed group that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Turkish citizens since 1984 and that is designated a terrorist group by the United States. According to estimates by the Turkish authorities, Washington used 5,000 trucks and 2,000 cargo planes to deliver weapons to the PYD/YPG in recent years.
My government has repeatedly shared our concerns with American officials about their decision to train and equip the PKK’s allies in Syria. Unfortunately, our words have fallen on deaf ears, and American weapons ended up being used to target civilians and members of our security forces in Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
In recent weeks, the United States has taken a series of steps to escalate tensions with Turkey, citing the arrest by the Turkish police of an American citizen, Andrew Brunson, on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. Instead of respecting the judicial process, as I urged President Trump to do in our many meetings and conversations, the United States issued blatant threats against a friendly nation and proceeded to impose sanctions on several members of my cabinet. This decision was unacceptable, irrational and ultimately detrimental to our longstanding friendship.
To convey that Turkey does not respond to threats, we retaliated by sanctioning multiple American officials. Moving forward, we will abide by the same principle: Attempting to force my government to intervene in the judicial process is not in line with our Constitution or our shared democratic values.
Turkey has established time and again that it will take care of its own business if the United States refuses to listen. In the 1970s, the Turkish government stepped in to prevent massacres of ethnic Turks by the Greek Cypriots despite Washington’s objections. More recently, Washington’s failure to grasp the seriousness of our concerns regarding national security threats emanating from Northern Syria resulted in two military incursions that cut off the so-called Islamic State’s access to NATO’s borders and removed the YPG militants from the city of Afrin. As in those cases, we will take necessary steps to protect our national interests.
At a time when evil continues to lurk around the world, unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States, our ally of decades, will only serve to undermine American interests and security. Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives. Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the president of Turkey.
The above article was first published by The New York Times.